Headlines have been heralding the latest disaster for social care as BBC’s Panorama reveals that care firms have cancelled contracts with 95 UK Councils because they didn’t feel capable of delivering services with the current wages being paid.
Problems Faced By Social Care
After months and years of delays in both funding and in the realisation of the extent of the problems within social care, the government revealed additional funding in the latest budget, however, this latest investigation has highlighted that it is too little too late.
The Local Government Association said the cancelled contracts were a result of “historic under-funding” and an ageing population, add in the increased National Living Wage and it is no surprise that care firms are panicking and suffering.
The investigation came from a Freedom of Information Request and highlights some key statistics – 69 home care companies have closed in the last 3 months and 1 in 4 of the UK’s 2500 home care companies are at risk of insolvency. The government declined interview but said that £9.25 billion had been invested in social care. The investigation has highlighted the enormous strain on the industry and the need for change.
Budget Cuts for Councils
The investigative programme which took place on the 20th March, (BBC1, 8.30pm) opened the doors on systemic failures in the social care system. It focused on a number of Councils and home care providers, highlighting in particular Liverpool City Council and their struggles. They have recently seen their budget cut by £330 million with a further £90 million to be cut over the next 3 years. For home care providers, local councils are simply not paying enough for their contracts to be completed to a high standard that patients deserve, resulting in them being returned and further strain being placed on the services.
Some patients have remained in rehabilitation or hospital for 12-14 weeks, causing “bed blocking”, but a third of those in hospitals are waiting on a home care package being put in place.
The programme highlighted the strain on social care staff, many of whom are on zero hour contracts, unable to get mortgages and working 12 hour days. One statement suggested that a local supermarket would pay more when travel was taken out of the equation. This all adds to the ever-growing recruitment problem faced by home care providers, every day is a struggle to cover shifts and the ultimate result is that some patients are not able to be seen.
Care companies continuously battle the more competitive salaries and hours from local health boards, with their own staff feeling over-worked, under pressure from mountains of paperwork and not able to provide the level of care that patients require. The programme highlighted how care workers dedicate time, emotion and genuinely care about their patients, showcasing their efforts and how they are an essential part of their patients’ lives. They deserve a social care system that supports them and invests in methods to make their working lives easier.
Professor John Williams, from Aberystwyth University believed that the term crisis was not enough and that instead social care was “probably at the point of failure”.
Staff Shortages Share the Blame
Not only does funding and lack of investment create the current issues we are seeing in social care, the problems stem from a staff shortage that is approaching breaking point. A care home in Leeds was recently forced to close its nursing wing due to staff shortages. Robert Ross, Donisthorpe Hall’s chair of trustees said that it was a result of the current climate of nursing shortages meaning they had to rely on agency staff.
The sheer number of unfilled vacancies have been revealed in the Office for National Statistics report that shows that in the 3 months to Jan 2017 more than 15% of vacancies, 117 000, were in health and social work sectors. Figures from NHS Employers shows that there are currently 24,000 nursing vacancies and the NHS Jobs site has more than 15,000 vacancies on its website. In community health nursing, there has been a 12% drop overall in full time staff numbers since 2009 despite growing demand. Resulting in compromised quality of care and daily fire fighting for management and planners.
It has been creating a vicious circle where existing staff feel stressed with increased workloads due to low staffing levels, they in turn either leave to join the private sector or take sick leave, further resulting in more staff shortages and increased demand on those trying to manage heavy workloads. The fall in standards makes it difficult to attract new staff and the cycle continues.
The situation does not look set to improve with the Centre for Workplace Intelligence estimating at least 2 million more carers will be needed by 2025 in England.
Social care is about giving people independence in their homes and providing a professional standard of care for them. The government declined interview for the BBC Panorama investigation but did state that they will bring forward proposed plans to ensure a more financially sustainable social care system. They have also pledged an extra £27 million to Liverpool City Council in the hopes of improving their situation.
Mobile Working as a Solution
However, investing more money does not address the fundamental issues at the heart of the situation; staff are overworked and something must be done to alleviate this. By investing in technology, not only can they more effectively management their daily jobs, but they can save time, time that can be spent with patients or in taking on one of the desperate patients awaiting a home care package. Staff will feel more valued in the investment, they will receive training. Although their roles require a lot of travel, digital workforce management will help to reduce the time required in the office and will help to better plan and schedule their working day.
Without a sustainable plan for developing mobile workforce management, long term improvements cannot be achieved. The BBC Panorama investigation throws the growing crisis into the spotlight and should encourage the necessary dialogue on the development of technology and mobile solutions for social care.